Friday, October 31, 2008

Rain Rain Go Away

Some things get better as weather takes a turn for the extreme. Football in blizzard conditions has become romanticized as the ideal conditions for play. Soccer in a downpour has a sort of dramatic quality to it.  Golf in hurricane winds is a trademark of the British Open.  

Baseball in the rain, on the other hand, is just plain and simple NO GOOD. 

The 6th inning of  rain-suspended Game 5  provided a nice snapshot of why baseball and rain just don't mix. Talented players doing what they do best ought to be a thing of beauty. In the top of the 6th, Cole Hamels was really dealing for the Phillies. One of the games most exciting and talented young left-handed pitchers and the eventual World Series MVP in near top form. At the plate was Carlos Pena, slugging first baseman for the upstart Rays. On first base, the fleet-footed uber-phenom BJ Upton who, when running, glides like the trade winds across the Hawaiian Islands. 

With rain pouring down, Upton darted through 90 feet of brown muck to steal 2nd base.  A couple of pitches later, Pena reached down and lined a Hamels breaking ball into leftfield. Upton tip-toed his way around third and made his way home with the tying run. Somehow, he made a tight turn around third without ending up on his duff on the slippery, rain-soaked grass between third and home. The game was tied. And soon thereafter, it was suspended.

In the aftermath of the abomination that was the 6 rain-drenched innings of the initial effort at Game 5, national sportswriters have sounded off on the insanity of attempting to play in monsoon conditions. Woody Paige wrote a piece calling for the World Series to be played every year in Hawaii in order to ensure temperate weather conditions late in the month of october. Its an interesting argument. Football plays its title game every year in a domed or warm-weather neutral site. (This coming despite the fact that we all swoon (and rightfully so!) over January games played on the frozen tundra, yada yada yada) Why not the World Series?

The argument has some obvious advantages:

1-- A seven game series would end the need for off days, or at least the need for multiple off days. We could start on a wednesday and play every day until the following tuesday if needed.

2-- The weather would be ideal. Granted, During October and November, rain does fall, sometimes for long stretches of time in Hawaii. BUT, we have an almost iron-clad guarantee of 80-85 degree temperatures. 

3-- A return to day baseball. In order for the game to go on the air on the east coast at 8:00EST, the first pitch would need to be thrown at 2:00HST. That means all future World Series games would be played (if not viewed) in sunlight. 

4-- It could compensate Hawaii (and maybe even receive a warm welcome from local officials) in case the NFL ever makes good on its threats to move the annual Pro Bowl away from the Aloha State.

The cons:

1-- Hawaii is ill-equipped to house the game, at present. Aloha Stadium is falling apart and would be unfit for baseball. Unless major league baseball is willing to play the games at Les Murakami Stadium at the University of Hawaii (Capacity: 4,312), a new baseball palace would need to be built that would only be used for 7 games a year.  The State of Hawaii is not going to be overly thrilled with building and maintaining a baseball-only stadium.

2-- Baseball, unlike every other major team sport, allows for variations in the shape and size of playing fields. Each park is different in a way which does effect the outcome of games. Theres the Green Monster in Boston, the hill in centerfied in Houston, and the vast outfield in San Diego.  To take that away from the World Series would be pretty artificial.

3-- We would say a sad "aloha" to the possibility of a team winning a championship in their home town. No more fans pouring out of the park into the streets to celebrate a championship. 

I'm torn. It would make a lot of sense to take the weather factor totally out of the equation. Fans at the game sure wouldn't mind. And, if we're trying to promote the game in Asia, Honolulu is pretty much the closest thing we've got to an Asian city in the United States. But, we'd be closing the book on the way we've done things for more than 100 years in the grand old game and depriving ourselves of seeing history take place at parks with which we have a fair degree of intimacy. 

I'm not going to picket MLB offices calling for the immediate relocation of the World Series to Hawaii. But, should Comissioner Selig announce that the World Series is moving to Hawaii, i think I would be on board with the idea. In fact, I may even do my best Rodney Dangerfield and announce "hey everybody, we're all gonna get lei'd!"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Aloha, World Series

Tomorrow evening, the World Series will get under way in Florida. As any Phillies fan or Citizen of Tampa-St. Pete can attest, the 2008 World Series is unlike any in recent memory. One team has a grand total of 1 World Series title. The other is still living its first winning season. A good number of players involved in the Series hadn't even been born in 1980 when the Phillies won their only World Championship.

This Series will be special for another reason: There will be a player born in Hawaii involved! Shane Victorino will become only the 8th person born in America's 50th state to play in the Fall Classic. He joins Mike Lum (1976 Reds), Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez (1986 Mets), Lenn Sakata (1983 Orioles), Milt Wilcox (1984 Tigers), Charlie Hough (1978 Dodgers), and Benny Agbayani (1999 Mets) as Hawaiian-born Series participants.

For a state with year-round baseball weather, its kind of shocking that more baseball players haven't come out of the Aloha State. There really haven't been many. Football is King in the Islands. But, this week, sports fans from Kona to Kauai will be cheering for "The Flyin Hawaiian." The Honolulu sports pages will be filled with stories and images of the local hero. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Victorino jersey or two around town.

Best of luck to you Shane. You've brought the most distant regions of the Nation under the spell of the National Pastime. Mahalo!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sit Back and Enjoy the Games

On Wednesday night the World Series will begin under the concrete sky of Tropicana Field in Tampa-St Pete. With the defeat of the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, the 2008 World Series will feature two teams whom I would not mind seeing win it all. There is no "evil empire" team in this Fall Classic. No one to loathe. Just, hopefully, plenty of well-played baseball featuring likable talented teams.

Not all World Series, we know all too well, can be pleasant series between equally appealing teams. Nor should they be. After Game 5 of this year's ALCS, a buddy of mine reminded me that we really do need to have a villain team against which we can root. When such a team goes down in flames, we Lilliputians dance on Gulliver's fallen body, ignoring temporarily that we were more interested in watching the giant fall than in seeing the underdog triumph. When the bad guys win, we curse the heavens and make grand pronouncements about the promises held in store by the eternal "next season."

Since I have been old enough to care about baseball, there has almost always been a good vs evil type of World Series Matchup. Good has triumphed fairly often.

1988: Dodgers (Good) defeat Athletics (Bad)
1989: Athletics (Bad) defeat Giants (Good)
1990: Reds (Good) defeat Athletics (Bad)

1988 through 1990 brought me into contact with the first evil empire of my baseball life. It wasn't until much later (early 2005 to be exact) when I learned just how evil the Jose Canseco & Mark McGwire "Bash Brothers" teams had been. But, even in October 1988, it was clear that the Dodgers were to be cheered for over the sluggers from Oakland. Kirk Gibson's legendary pinch-hit game winning jack off of uber-closer Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 that year was a nice introduction into the limitless possibilities of a "good vs evil" World Series.

Neutral interlude: 1991: Twins defeat Braves

The greatest World Series ever played featured two likable "worst-to-first" teams. I was rooting for Atlanta, but, there were no compelling reasons to root against Minnesota. The Series provided dramatic finishes, extra-inning tension, and great performances from great players (Jack Morris threw 10 shutout innings in Game 7!). There were also the heroics of lesser mortals: little Mark Lemke, Brian Harper, and Ron Gant come to mind. The 1991 Fall Classic was baseball at its finest, played with passion by two exciting teams who were relative newcomers to postseason baseball.

1992: Blue Jays (Bad) defeat Braves (Good)
1993: Blue Jays (Bad) defeat Phillies (Good)

For many people, the Blue Jays of the early 1990s might not have been the personification of evil, but, for everyone from Baltimore, the Cito Gasten-led Toronto teams were to be reviled. They had edged out my Orioles for the AL East in 1989, an offense for which there is no forgiveness. In July 1993, Cito Gasten descended to "super vilain" status by refusing to insert Mike Mussina into the All-Star Game despite the pleas of 47,000 Baltimore fans in attendance at Camden Yards. "Cito Sucks" t-shirts sold like proverbial hotcakes around Baltimore. When October rolled around that year, and Joe Carter made his famous leaping, skipping and series-winning trip around the bases, I hung my head to mourn a second straight triumph of evil in the World Series.

1994: Baseball Economics (Bad) defeats Childhood innocence (Good)

Neutral Interlude: 1995: Braves defeat Indians

What wasn't to love about this series? An up-and-coming Cleveland team which featured a few loveable old faces (Hershiser, Dennis Martinez, Eddie Murray) and some young stars (Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, et al) squared off with a Braves team still in search of its first World Series crown since moving to the Deep South. Game Six was an all-time classic as Tom Glavine spun a one-hitter for 8 innings, David Justice launched a solo homer, and Atlanta won its first World Series Championship.

1996: Yankees (Bad) defeat Braves (Good)

The first world Championship of a revived Yankee Dynasty. The pinstriped crew from the Bronx fell behind 2-0 to the Braves before rattling off four straight wins to claim the first of what would become 4 World Championships in 5 years.

The Wrong Teams were playing: 1997: Marlins defeat Indians

As an Orioles fan, I was too angry at life (and at Armando Benetiz) to be able to enjoy this series. That was a shame because it went seven games.

1998: Yankees (Bad) defeat Padres (Good)
1999: Yankees (Bad) defeat Braves (Good)
2000: Yankees (Bad) defeat Mets (Good)
2001: Diamondbacks (Good) defeat Yankees (Bad)

The Yankee Dynasty. Every series was potentially exciting because every series was a matchup of good vs evil. 1998, 1999, and 2000 ended with more championship banners flying in the Bronx. And lets face it, once we realized that the underdogs had NO HOPE WHATSOEVER, these series lost their appeal really really quickly. In 2001, a furious Game 7 Arizona rally against Mariano Rivera brought down the invincible Yankees. At last, good had overcome.

2002: Neutral Interlude: Angels defeat Giants

At the time, we didn't know that we hated Barry Bonds. We knew he wasn't the world's friendliest fellow, but all of the unfortunate details about his workout and nutritional habits would come to light much later. In 2002, it was the upstart Angels against the Single Season Homerun King and his San Francisco teammates. Great Series that went the full seven games.

2003: Marlins (Good) defeat Yankees (Bad)

In the last World Series appearance of the Joe Torre-led Yankee Dynasty, the New Yorkers ran into the buzzsaw of Josh Beckett and the Florida Marlins. Perhaps as proof that no one stays on the side of good forever, Josh Beckett would become an active contributer to great evil in 2007.

2004: Red Sox (Good) defeat Cardinals (less good)

Remember how much fun this was? Remember how close to giddy we all became when the Red Sox rallied from an 0-3 hole against the Yankees in the ALCS? Remember the joy in seeing the headlines proclaiming that the Curse of the Bambino was officially broken? Remember when Red Sox fans weren't boasting and loud? In 2004, they really weren't the Evil "Nation" yet. Really. The day after the World Series ended, I began regretting having rooted for the Sox all October. How quickly they turned to the Dark Side.

2005: White Sox defeat Astros
2006: Cardinals defeat Tigers

The outcome of these Series didn't bother me. I would have preferred that the Tigers had won in 2006, but, what wasn't to like about any of the teams during these two series. Sadly, neither Series was particularly entertaining, but, for my money, 2005 was the most hotly contested 4-game sweep in World Series history.

2007: Red Sox (Bad) defeat Rockies (Good)

Josh Beckett's Darth Vadar moment. It was official as soon as the Series was underway: The Red Sox were the new Evil Empire. For the three seasons since their 2004 triumph, their fans became increasingly insufferable, the players became way too full of themselves, and other teams picked up the mantel of "Embodiment of Good." The Sox will have to wait 86 years in order to reclaim their crown of "America's underdog."

There is no villain this year. All I ask from the Phillies and Rays is that they 1) entertain me for a week and 2) Don't go over to the Dark Side immediately after winning. In other words: Provide us with a good series and then don't make us immediately regret having enjoyed it!

Play Ball!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lamentable Loss

At some point in the 7th inning of tonight's Tampa Bay meltdown at Fenway Park I realized why i've been in such agony for the last few ALCS games. I've been really pleased with the outcome of most of the games, but, each night, until the final Red Sox out is recorded, I have had a sick feeling in my stomach. Tonight I realized why.

The Red Sox have broken my spirit.

I want them to lose so badly, and, in recent years, they just haven't been cooperating. I'm forced to confront this situation at least 3 times a week on TV thanks to ESPN's current love affair with "Red Sox Nation." Sportscenter covers them with great regularity.

I am annoyed by their fans who, after the team won a World Series in 2004, magically discovered that they want to swarm to Camden Yards every summer when the Red Sox come to Baltimore. I kick myself for not yet having given a Red Sox IQ test to the blue and red (and green!) wearing masses who take over my home park several times a season. Until I do so, I will refrain from commenting on the baseball knowledge of their fanbase.

I can't stand that Jason Varitek wears a "C" on his jersey. No other team captains do that in professional baseball. Why should he?

I find all of Kevin Youkilis' mannerisms, his temperment, and his appearance offensive.

Dustin Pedroia reminds me of Gerry McNamara. And Gerry McNamara is the anti-christ.

Curt Schilling is a bigoted idiot who would do well to leave his political views far far away from the playing field. He talks too much.

JD Drew is everything that is wrong about modern baseball economics.

Thanks to ESPN, I have heard more about Josh Beckett's arm during the past few months than I have heard about progress in the War in Afghanistan.

Mike Timlin may have been the worst in a long line of failed Orioles closers. (And thats saying something!)

Jonathon Papelbon is obnoxious. Save the celebratory gyrations and shouting for your offseason saturday night bowling league.

I think that its obscene that sports announcers use the nickname "Big Papi" or just "Papi" to refer to David Ortiz. Cal Ripken was never simply referred to as "Ironman" during play-by-play.

Also, anyone well versed in Domincan slang want to take a crack at street usage of the term "Papi"??

I have horrible memories of a walk-off game-winning homerun by David Ortiz off of BJ Ryan in 2005. I remember all too well when the Orioles blew a 5 run 9th inning lead on Mothers' Day 2007 at Fenway Park. I saw Chris Ray give up a game-winning grandslam to Wily Mo Pena (yes, he did hit a homer for the Red Sox in 2007) before a packed house at Camden Yards.

I thought that the Indians had them beat last October. Up 3 games to 1. Then the Red Sox rattled of 3 straight and swept a flat Colorado team for the World Series Title.

In short, the thought of the Red Sox season ending before the World Series begins is a thought that is too fantastic, too utopian, too wonderful for my brain to comprehend. Nights like tonight only worsen my Red Sox complex. All I can see in my head right now is another emphatic Papelbon celebration after they've won the World Series. I don't want to see that in my head. I want to see Tampa jumping up and down near the pitcher's mound on Saturday night. If I keep trying hard enough, maybe, just maybe, It could happen.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

At Least in 2004 They Didn't Have an Owner

Do you hear that sound?

A rush of air, the squeak of hinges. We all brace ourselves for the inevitable KABOOM!

Yes, the door of opportunity for the Washington Nationals to establish themselves as a real baseball team worthy of the love of a long-baseball-deprived fanbase is quickly closing. Once it actually slams shut, it won’t be easy to re-open.

Just ask The Tampa Bay Rays. After hanging out in the AL East basement for their first 10 seasons of existence, not even the dream season they’re experiencing in 2008 has been able to fill the seats at Tropicana Field. That door has been closed too tightly for too long to just fly open because of a sudden burst of pennant fever wind. Scott Kazmir has lamented the empty seats repeatedly in interviews with the media. The team notices. ESPN notices.

Since coming to Washington in 2005, the Nationals have had a WORSE RECORD than the franchise posted during their last 4 seasons in Montreal:

2001: 68-94
2002: 83-79
2003: 83-79
2004: 67-95

Winning %: .465

2005: 81-81
2006: 71-91
2007: 73-89
2008: 57-93

Winning %: .443

Losing is one thing. Losing at a worse clip than your ancestors who were owned by Major League Baseball is unthinkable. Let’s examine the 2001-2004 Expos for a second to drive this point home.

At the close of the 2001 season, the Expos were on MLB’s chopping block. After a losing season in which their attendance had fell to an average of below 8,000 per game, The Expos were widely rumored to be one of two teams headed for contraction after club owners 28-2 to disband two teams. Before the start of the 2002 season, Expos owner Jeffery Loria purchased the Marlins from John Henry, and bolted to the Sunshine State taking with him all of the Expos front office, management personnel, and even office equipment. Major League Baseball then bought the team for 100,000,000 from Loria and, contraction having failed because of some clever legal maneuvering by the City of Minneapolis to keep the Twins alive, MLB was forced to try to run the Expos in 2002. Frank Robinson was brought out of retirement to manage the club. Omar Minaya was made the GM and given a 35 million dollar budget with which to do business.

The team was in contention for much of 2002 In July, with the trading deadline looming, Minaya made a blockbuster move to acquire Bartolo Colon from Cleveland. In exchange for Colon, Montreal parted with Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, and Grady Sizemore. It’s hard to argue with conspiracy theorists when they assert that the trade was a deliberate attempt by MLB to sink the future of the Montreal franchise, facilitate contraction, and enrich the team, Cleveland, of one of the 29 men who “owned” Montreal.

The 2003 Expos also contended for a playoff birth. Rather than sinking the fortunes of the Expos through a one-sided trade, MLB torpedoed their pennant chances by forbidding Minaya to call up fresh players from the minor leagues during September. Citing financial restrictions, the Expos made do with their 25-man roster until the bitter end of 2003. They finished 8 games behind the wild-card winning Marlins. Critics in the national media lambasted MLB for a “conflict of interest” for having the Expos competitors control the franchise’s purse strings.

In 2004, as in 2003, the Expos played a large chunk of their games in San Juan Puerto Rico. Unlike the 2003 squad, the 2004 Expos did not challenge for a post-season berth. By mid-September, MLB announced that the Expos would move to Washington, DC for the 2005 season. The team finished in last place.

Since moving to Washington, the Nationals have returned to private ownership, moved into a bright new ballpark, and played 2 ½ seasons totally free from the artificial financial constraints imposed by MLB.

And the team has S-T-U-N-K.

Injuries certainly deserve some of the blame for the debacle which has been the 2008 season. Every position player but one who started for the Nationals on opening night has spent at least 15 days on the Disabled List. No amount of planning could have warded off the injury bug.

But, it is mind boggling to think that the 2007 and 2008 Nationals have been finished with at least 10 fewer wins than the 2002 and 2003 clubs which were either A) deliberately being driven into the ground by MLB or B) for the slightly less cynical, operating under ungodly financial restrictions. It appears that even the vagabond 2004 team will have had more wins than the 2008 Nationals.

Think about that for a second. The 2008 Washington Nationals will finish with a worse record than their 2004 counterparts who had 2 homes, 29 owners who had no reason to want the team to win, a 35 million dollar operating budget, and an unsure future.

How is that possible?

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Meaningless Statistical Inquiry

Something has been bothering me all summer.

No. Not Jamie Walker's ERA, WHIP, or HR:IP ratio. More here

No. Not the fact that my Red Sox fan roommate could watch her team thrice weekly thanks to ESPN's decision to become the State TV network of "Red Sox Nation"

No. Not the fact that the Reds traded Ken Griffey Jr to Chicago ONE DAY BEFORE they came to Washington for a 4-game series.

No. The thing that has bothered me all summer is the strangely low RBI total of Orioles left-fielder Luke Scott. Don't get me wrong, Luuuuuuuuuuuke has been having a fine season and I contend that the Orioles got the better end of the trade last december which brought him to Charm City. But, for a man with 21 homeruns to his name, his current RBI total of 58 seems small.

It's a meaningless stat, but, Scott's RBI:HR ratio is 2.762. I did some checking, and, I was shocked to find that his ratio is actually far from the lowest in baseball.

Several notables have much lower numbers such as:

Pat Burrell of Phillidelphia: 2.567
Adam Dunn of Arizona: 2.514
Marcus Thames of Detroit: 2.136
Hanley Ramirez of Florida: 2.103

And the lowest of anyone with at least 15 homers to their name...

Scott Hairston of San Diego: 1.824 (17 Homeruns and 31 RBI)

By comparison, Bobby Abreu of New York has a 5.600 ratio (15 HR and 84 RBI). Next highest is Justin Morneau who with 21 dingers and 109 RBI is rocking a 5.190 ratio.

Obviously alot of things contribute to the huge gap between Abreu and Hairston. When he starts, Hairston often bats leadoff on a bad National League team. His chances of coming up in good RBI situations with men on base are much lower than someone like Abreu who bats near the middle of a very potent Yankee lineup. Batting behind Derek Jeter and in front of A-Rod certainly boosts Abreu's RBI totals while not forcing him to hit alot of homers.

Its the place in the lineup/quality of lineup argument which caused me to ponder Luke Scott's totals. The 2008 Orioles, for all of their well-documented flaws, are an offensively potent team. Scott has spent much of the season batting behind players such as Aubrey Huff, Nick Markakis, and Melvin Mora who are enjoying excellent 2008 campaigns. However, having seen that Luke Scott compares closely to noted run producers such as the aforementioned Dunn and Burrell, I will leave the matter alone.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Love and Baseball Part III

Two weeks ago, the Baltimore Orioles swept the Houston Astros in a 3-game mid-week inter-league series played at Camden Yards. To the untrained eye, it was a wholly unremarkable occurrence. A team which is showing signs of improvement after a dismal decade won three straight games against a team which, by all accounts, is coming apart at the seems and headed for a well below .500 finish. I doubt anyone at ESPN even considered any of the three games for national tv coverage. And justifiably so. Boston Red Sox pre-game stretching has more of a national draw than mid-week Orioles vs Astros.

Despite what those who would jump at the chance to watch Kevin Youkilis limber up would have you believe, The Orioles-Astros series was indeed extraordinary. All three games had dramatic finishes. All three featured lead changes, timely hitting, clutch pitching and acrobatic defense. Most importantly, I watched all three games from the 3rd base-side lower box seats with my favorite Houston Astros fan. Though perhaps not the most conflict-free dating strategy (I doubt too many Roman boys asked Christian girls to go see Lions vs. Christians in the Colosseum) I am pleased to report that after three summer nights in Baltimore, my favorite baseball fan is still speaking to me.

In what may accurately be called PUSHING MY LUCK, I have decided to write about the series sweep. Over the next few days, I intend to weave my mental notes, our scorecards, and my occasional scribbled side-comments into a narrative which tells the story of 3 games, 3 dates, and 1 very very contented Orioles fan.

The scoreboard operators should have known this was coming. After a night in which any well-trained baboon could have keyed in the parade of zeros which covered the screen, Thursday night will be a lot more colorful. Even our seating arrangements will be chaotic, as, ticket-holders will repeatedly show up over the course of the first few innings brandishing tickets for the seats in which we are illegitimately sitting in my uncle’s 3rd base side section.

But first things first. After Orange Wild Bill Hagy Jerseys on Tuesday, and Retro adjustable hats on Wednesday, tonight’s door prizes are Nick Markakis bobbleheads. It’s a good-looking souvenir, 31,480 folks show up to get one.

The run scoring starts early. Michael Bourn leads off with a bunt base hit. With 2 outs, Bourn swipes 2nd base and promptly scores on a Lance Berkman RBI single. Brian Burres whiffs Carlos Lee for the 3rd out, avoiding further damage.

The Bourn stolen base is not a fluke; the Astros are a running-crazed team. Much to my companion’s chagrin, Cecil Cooper is determined to win games by stealing bases. As of this writing (July 10) the Astros lead the national league in having their runner gunned out on the base paths. 31 Astros have perished in the act of attempted theft. To put that in some perspective, that is as many or more caught stealing as 4 teams have stolen bases. The Astros run a lot.

The top of the second inning starts badly. Hunter Pence, he of the wiry frame and hyperactivity, raps a Burres offering deep into the left field lower deck to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. Burres is starting to look a little flustered as he immediately walks bald-headed Ty Wigginton. I slump a bit in my seat, preparing for an implosion. But, no such calamity is forthcoming. Burres retires the next 3 batters and order prevails.

In the top of the 3rd, Miguel Tejada, who has been irrationally booed for the duration of the 3-game series by many of the Camden faithful, provides me with a flashback to last season by rapping into a 6-4-3 double play. No Astro runs cross the plate in the inning. A first for tonight’s contest.

Last night’s hero, Kevin Millar, is at it again in the bottom of the frame. With 2 outs and white and orange-clad runners occupying every base, Millar patiently watches 4 balls go past him for the always sexy RBI walk. Astros lead sliced in half.

Ramon Hernandez, who acquired the nickname “Magnificent Bum” during the Pirates series over Fathers Day weekend, is magnificent in his at-bat leading off the 4th. Hernandez turns around a Shawn Chacon fastball and drives it into the left field boxes to tie the game. 2-2. But more joy is forthcoming. As my companion gets that uneasy look on her face of a fan who is beginning to fear witnessing a sweep, Alex Cintron cracks a big fly into the right-center bleachers. 4 innings are in the books. The Birds hold a 3-2 advantage.

Burres is starting to look sharp. The Astros go scoreless in the 5th. The orioles have no intention of going so quietly. Back-to-back singles by Mora and Huff bring up the fair-headed Kevin Millar. Millar’s RBI binge is not complete. He rockets a double to deep centerfield. Mora scores easily, Huff, laboriously plods to 3rd base. It cannot be overstated; Huff and Millar are painfully slow runners. But this inning, that won’t matter. After a fly out to short right by Scott and a groundout by Hernandez, Jay Payton brings both heavy-footed oriole baserunners homeward with a 2-run single.

6-2 Birds. Not for long. Miguel Tejada makes it 6-3 with a blast to left field. It’s still a 3-run Astros deficit, so the celebration by my game-companion is subdued. Given the absolutely classless and unwarranted abuse that Tejada has taken from the once adoring Baltimore fans, I am tempted to stand and clap as he rounds the bases. That a player who came to the Orioles when the team was a laughingstock and provided moments of excitement when excitement was in short-supply, should be booed in his former home park is, to me, disgraceful. Every Baltimore fan that stood and berated Tejada during the 3 game series deserves every bit of the futile misery to which they have been subjected during the past decade.

With 2 men out in the 6th, Burres walks Ty Wigginton. The tying run comes to the plate in the person of veteran Mark Loretta. Exit Burres. Enter pudgy Matt Albers. Loretta lines out to Cintron at short. Still 6-3 for the home team.

After the singing of Thank God I’m a Country Boy, Aubrey Huff cranks a homerun to right field off of lefty Tim Byrdak. 7-3 Orioles. A sweep is temptingly close. I’m excited. Worn out from lots of driving and 26 innings of baseball, but excited. The girl in the Astros gear sitting next to me seems about ready to strangle either me, Huff, or perhaps most satisfying of all, Cecil Cooper.

The 9th inning dawns and suddenly the brakes have been slammed on the Happy Joyful Train to Sweep City. Dennis Sarfate walks the leadoff man. Alex Cintron drops a throw at second base on a would-be double play. 2 runners on. No one out. Sarfate, who shows worlds of potential and many areas of needed reform, reaches back and fans pinch hitter Darin Erstad. Did you know, I facetiously ask my companion for the 8th time this week, that Erstad used to play football at University of Nebraska?

2 on. 1 out. Sarfate walks Michael Bourn. Bases loaded. Tying run coming to the plate. Dave Trembley emerges from the dugout and replaces Sarfate with the flat-brimmed George Sherrill. Kaz Matsui elevates a Sherrill offering to right field, but, Markakis easily snags it for the 2nd out. 1 run scores on the play. 7-4 good guys. Miguel Tejada steps into the batters box. Nervous Orioles rooters toss unnecessary invective his way. How ironic, I let myself think, if Tejada were to blast a game-tying homer right now. It’s what the hecklers deserve. No homer is forthcoming. Instead, the former Oriole shortstop hits a high chopper to shortstop, which Cintron drops. Allow me to repeat that last clause: Cintron drops. The official scorer takes pity on the Orioles shortstop and declares the play a base hit. I disagree.

7-5. Go-ahead run striding to the plate in the person of Lance Berkman. He’s 3 for 4 on the night and homered in last night’s game. I don’t like where this is headed. In my nervousness, I fail to observe if my long-suffering game-watching buddy has taken this last-ditch opportunity to smile over the prospects of a miracle comeback. Berkman, batting right handed against the left-handed Orioles closer, gets under a 1-2 offering from Sherrill and skies a game-ending fly ball to Payton’s waiting glove in left field.

The stress of the 9th really zapped some of my energy to enjoy having just seen a sweep in person. The Orioles Magic music video is playing on the over-sized TV in centerfield. A long-suffering, wonderful, and worn out Astros fan walks out of the stadium with me. Her team has blown a lead in all three games. All three contests have ended in dramatic fashion. And, now, defeated, the Astros have an 8th straight loss to show for their efforts. Though my Lions have eaten her Christians three nights in a row, I receive the happy assurance as we leave that there will be more baseball this summer for the two of us.

Of all the wonderfulness involved in seeing my favorite team win three games in a row, the promise of future baseball with the greatest double-X chromosome’d fan is, by far, the highlight of the week.

Love and Baseball Part II

Two weeks ago, the Baltimore Orioles swept the Houston Astros in a 3-game mid-week inter-league series played at Camden Yards. To the untrained eye, it was a wholly unremarkable occurrence. A team which is showing signs of improvement after a dismal decade won three straight games against a team which, by all accounts, is coming apart at the seems and headed for a well below .500 finish. I doubt anyone at ESPN even considered any of the three games for national tv coverage. And justifiably so. Boston Red Sox pre-game stretching has more of a national draw than mid-week Orioles vs Astros.

Despite what those who would jump at the chance to watch Kevin Youkilis limber up would have you believe, The Orioles-Astros series was indeed extraordinary. All three games had dramatic finishes. All three featured lead changes, timely hitting, clutch pitching and acrobatic defense. Most importantly, I watched all three games from the 3rd base-side lower box seats with my favorite Houston Astros fan. Though perhaps not the most conflict-free dating strategy (I doubt too many Roman boys asked Christian girls to go see Lions vs. Christians in the Colosseum) I am pleased to report that after three summer nights in Baltimore, my favorite baseball fan is still speaking to me.

In what may accurately be called PUSHING MY LUCK, I have decided to write about the series sweep. Over the next few days, I intend to weave my mental notes, our scorecards, and my occasional scribbled side-comments into a narrative which tells the story of 3 games, 3 dates, and 1 very very contented Orioles fan.

The atmosphere at Harborplace at 6:00 is calm. Not a Red Sox fan in sight. Very few Orioles fans in sight. A Wednesday night Orioles-Astros contest does not exactly bring hoards flocking to downtown Baltimore. Not even for retro-hat night.

The last time I ate dinner at Harborplace before a game, my favorite baseball fan and I endured a 13-inning game interrupted by a series of drunken brawls in and around our section in the left-field upper boxes. Tonight, there will be no violence. Thanks to our family connections seat upgrade, we’ll have a terrific vantage point on the game from the 3rd base side field boxes. There won’t even by much violence on the scoreboard.

But there will be extra innings.

Jeremy Guthrie is on the bump for the Birds. He dispatches the Astros in order on three ground balls. A much more agreeable opening than last night’s initial half inning.

In the bottom of the first, Nick Markakis raps a double off of journeyman Astros hurler Brian Moehler. With 1 out, last night’s hero Melvin Mora, who, despite a putrid .240 overall batting average is hitting close to .350 with men in scoring position, rolls out weakly to Wigginton at 3rd base. Markakis takes 3rd on a wild pitch from Moehler. 2 pitches later, Aubrey Huff has drawn a walk. 1st and 3rd. 2 outs. Kevin Millar laces a sinking liner towards right field. If it drops, it’s a 1-0 lead for the birds and the rally will live on. As the liner dives towards the safety of the lush green right field turf, the hard-charging string-bean right fielder, Hunter Pence, dashes forward, hurls himself earthward, and snares the would be RBI single.

Following the baseball cliché that a good play in the field will be followed by success at bat, in the top of the second, Pence crashes a double to left-center. Lance Berkman lumbers to 3rd and the visitors threaten. Guthrie pacifies the invaders by inducing back to back lineouts by Erstad and Wigginton to end the inning. It will be several innings before the Astros touch a base again.

The veteran Moehler has overcome the first inning malaise and is really dealing. The two teams start an energetic swap of scoreboard goose eggs. 6 up and 6 down in the 3rd. 6 up and six down in the 4th. Only a 2-out Adam Jones single denies Moehler a perfect 5th. As the mid-game restlessness of the Camden Yards patrons takes hold of the stadium, a brightly-colored beach ball is sent knuckling through the air in our section. It survives for several skyward bumps from obliging fans before it is snatched from thin-air and put to sleep by the 250 pound usher in our section. Some boos ring out. If the usher in question weren’t my uncle, I might have been tempted to join in.

After another silent half inning from the Astros in the top of the 6th, the Orioles mount a rally, but, a pop-up from Huff and a fly out by Millar dash the home teams scoring chances.

With 1 out in the top of the 7th, a new sound rings through the park. It’s the sonic boom of maple wood pummeling horsehide. Lance Berkman has just stratophered a Guthrie fastball to right field. 1-0 Visitors. Despite an error by Shortstop non-solution Alex Cintron, no further damage is done. Ty Wigginton throws a bit of a temper tantrum at home plate after he strikes out to end the inning. Cecil Cooper rushes out to defend his 3rd baseman. For a second straight night, an Astros player, this time Wigginton, appears to get the ole’ heave-ho from the umpire. But, rather than retreating to the dugout and clubhouse, Wigginton, after a great deal of huffing and puffing, wanders to his position at the hot corner. Un-ejections on back-to-back nights?

The natives stand and sing Hymn #1983: Thank God I’m a Country Boy. Luke Scott strides into the batters box after the singing concludes. Before the former Astro has exited the hitting square, he has tied the game with a magnificent blast into the grass patch beyond the centerfield wall. A single, an error, and a walk load the bases with birds with 1 out. A change to take the lead? No. Wesley Wright fans Nick Markakis and Chris Sampson forces Mora to tap out weakly to Matsui at second. Game tied. Chance to seize the lead squandered.

Guthrie is still in command. Despite the failed rally, I think I am smiling more than my watching buddy. The visitors go down 1-2-3 in the 8th. Guthrie walks off the mound to an enthusiastic ovation. A run in the 8th and the under-supported Orioles ace will be in line for a victory.

The Birds go down in order.

Chad Bradford, the Orioles submarining veteran reliever enters to pitch the top of the 9th. My companion, having read Michael Lewis’ classic Moneyball, knows a great deal about Bradford and gleefully applauds his entrance into the game. I take over the lead in the gleefulness department soon as Bradford retires the leadoff man, surrenders a single to Berkman, and then induces the slow-footed behemoth, Carlos Lee, to ground into an inning ending 6-4-3 double play.

No damage in the bottom of the 9th. The Astros hint at a threat in the top of the 10th, but, with 2 outs and a runner on 1st, Brad Ausmus manages only a 30 foot tapper to the mound against Bradford’s down-under slings. The veteran right-hander fields the nubber and submarines it to first to end the inning.

Enter Jose Valverde. Nick Markakis will lead off. Last night, Markakis feebly flailed at Valverde’s fastball in one of the most 1-sided at-bats in recent memory. Tonight, the Orioles franchise player has improved slightly. A respectable ground ball to 1st base is the first out of the inning, but, Markakis trots back to the dugout with his dignity in tact. Melvin Mora, who last night slew the portly Valverde in the 8th inning, crashes a single to left center. Aubrey Huff follows with a roller into left field which is hit just weakly enough, and Carlos Lee is just fat and slow enough, to allow Mora to scamper from first to third. Runners on the corners, 1 out. The outfield mopes in a few steps. The corner infielders creep inward. Only the 2nd baseman and shortstop remain on the infield dirt.

Millar raps a crisp single up the middle. Mora jogs homeward. Millar taps first base with his left foot then is descended upon by a mob of teammates. They knock off his helmet, exposing a head of dyed-yellow hair. Not even the amusing sight of a grown man with comically blonde hair can console my favorite baseball fan. It’s a second straight dramatic 1-run loss for the Astros. They have now lost 7 straight.

The great thing about baseball, I think as I see the frown on my companion’s face, is that the pain of 1 game only lasts about 20 hours until the first pitch the following night. And, may the sports gods be praised, we will be there again tomorrow night for that pain-erasing (or pain-delaying as the situation may be) first pitch.

Love and Baseball Part I

Two weeks ago, the Baltimore Orioles swept the Houston Astros in a 3-game mid-week inter-league series played at Camden Yards. To the untrained eye, it was a wholly unremarkable occurrence. A team which is showing signs of improvement after a dismal decade won three straight games against a team which, by all accounts, is coming apart at the seems and headed for a well below .500 finish. I doubt anyone at ESPN even considered any of the three games for national tv coverage. And justifiably so. Boston Red Sox pre-game stretching has more of a national draw than mid-week Orioles vs Astros.

Despite what those who would jump at the chance to watch Kevin Youkilis limber up would have you believe, The Orioles-Astros series was indeed extraordinary. All three games had dramatic finishes. All three featured lead changes, timely hitting, clutch pitching and acrobatic defense. Most importantly, I watched all three games from the 3rd base-side lower box seats with my favorite Houston Astros fan. Though perhaps not the most conflict-free dating strategy (I doubt too many Roman boys asked Christian girls to go see Lions vs. Christians in the Colosseum) I am pleased to report that after three summer nights in Baltimore, my favorite baseball fan is still speaking to me.

In what may accurately be called PUSHING MY LUCK, I have decided to write about the series sweep. Over the next few days, I intend to weave my mental notes, our scorecards, and my occasional scribbled side-comments into a narrative which tells the story of 3 games, 3 dates, and 1 very very contented Orioles fan.

The trip to Baltimore was far too smooth. Sandwiches in Georgetown. A few minutes illegally parked while my baseball companion got out of work. No parking ticket. Almost no traffic. Plenty of space at the outdoor parking lot which marks the last bastion of innocence before Baltimore Street spills eastward to a land of prurience. After a quick few minutes surrounded by Bal-mer-ians in the ticket line, we marched, tickets in hand, through the turnstiles in time to receive our size XL, orange #34 Wild Bill Hagy Jerseys. Some quick wise-cracking from my uncle about my being cheap was the only price we paid to upgrade our seats from the leftfield boonies to the lower box seats in his section along the 3rd base line. Earl Klug played a fantastic national anthem.

The good times stopped abruptly once the contest on the field began. Michael Bourn led the game off with an infield single. Garrett Olson immediately went into his best Rick Ankiel impersonation and wild pitched Bourn all the way to 3rd. A Kaz Matsui ground ball to shortstop plated Bourn and, before the big bats in the middle of their order even began their night’s work, Houston led 1-0.

Olson settled down and retired the Astros without further damage on the scoreboard. His counterpart, Brandon Backe, who, as an aside, was an absolute stud in MVP Baseball 2005 for the PS2, wiggled out of trouble in the first and second innings. After a 1-2-3 top half of the third, the Orioles seized a 2-1 lead as Aubrey “The Magnificent Bum” Huff crashed a Backe offering into the stands. I stood and clapped. I’ve always had the utmost respect for Huff as both a person and a player, or so I declare to anyone within earshot. Caroline, slouching in her seat to my left, knows better, but is too perturbed by the turn of events on the field to expose my lie.

I stand again and my companion slouches and cringes again as Freddie Bynum, flicks an RBI single up the middle in the bottom of the fourth to stretch the hosts’ lead to 3-1.

Olson is cruising. He’s retired 12 straight Astros when Ty Wigginton strides into the box with 2 out in the top of the 5th. Wigginton fills out his uniform. His build suggests that he may have a future as an NFL fullback should he give up on baseball. He cracks a single. Humberto Quintero follows suit. As does Michael Bourn. 3-2 Orioles. After a Ramon Hernandez passed ball the runners advance to 2nd and 3rd and I declare Hernandez to be simply a Bum. Not magnificent on this night. Only a bum. With 2 men in scoring position, Kaz Matsui send the girl next to me to happy land with a 2-run double. 4-3 visitors.

I groan. In my anxiety I begin making nonsensical arm gestures towards the Orioles dugout as if to signal to Dave Trembley that the time has come to excuse Olson from further responsibilities for the evening. The Orioles skipper ignores me. Olson walks Miguel Tejada. The Astros fan with 2 X-chromosomes, sensing an opportunity for her team to go for the jugular, admonishes me to “Have Faith in my Pitcher.” I keep gesturing. Trembley heads my cries, emerges from the dugout, and summons Matt Albers from the bullpen.

As Albers trots in from the pen, my companion explains that the Orioles right-hander gave himself the nickname “Fat Albers” while with her Astros and that the Houston rumor mill was buzzing last summer that the youngster had “maturity issues.”

Issues and bad-nicknames be damned. Albers induces a ground ball from Lance Berkman which Brian Roberts plays cleanly and lobs to first for the final out of the inning.

Carlos Lee adds to my pain in the top of the 6th with a blast into the left field stands. 5-3. Maybe Albers does have maturity issues. Maybe he is a fat idiot bent on my eternal misery. Nope. With Geoff Blum on second base, Albers fields a come backer from Quintero, and flings it to first to end the sixth.

A 1-out Adam Jones double in the bottom of the sixth gives the Orioles runners on 2nd and 3rd. The lovely lady to my left stirs in her seat. “Why isn’t Cooper coming out to the mound?” she wonders out loud. I encourage her to have faith in her starting pitcher.

I should have kept my mouth shut. Backe fans light-hitting Freddie Bynum and then departs the game. Tim Byrdak replaces Backe on the rubber. Brian Roberts, swinging from the right-handed box, lofts a fly ball down the right field line. Hunter Pence, who is skinnier-looking in person than on TV, dashes toward the line, leaps up against the tall green padded wall along the line, snags the ball, and snuffs out a Baltimore rally.

After the Camden Yards patrons have belted out a rousing chorus of Thank God I’m a Country Boy, Nick Markakis returns Birdland to its feel with an opposite field homer to lead off the 7th. 2 batters later, the Magnificent Huff strokes a double; and with 2 out, Luke Scott works a walk from the recently inserted Doug Brocail. Runners on 1st and 2nd. 2 outs. Brocail runs the count to 2-1 against Ramon Hernandez. Then, suddenly, a fuse inside Brocail blows. For reasons not clear to the casual observer, Brocail and home plate umpire Ed Hickox enter into a heated war of words. Hickox appears to wind up and eject Brocail from the game. Cecil Cooper sprints out of the visiting team dugout. The Camden Yards partisans ho and hum and holler.

When order is restored, somehow, magically, Brocail is still in the game. I am shocked. Un-ejected? Is that possible?

No worries. The outlook has improved. 5-4 Astros. Jim Johnson enters to pitch the 8th and promptly fans Lance Berkman. Carlos Lee singles, exits the game for a pinch runner, Reggie Abercrombie, who, is gunned down at second on a steal attempt a few pitches later. I express thanks for Cecil Cooper’s bone-headed insistence on playing small ball with a lineup of boppers. A hint of homicidal rage towards Cooper dances briefly in the Astros fan’s eyes.

The Orioles half of the 8th plays out like so many games played by the Orioles in the years before I came into the world. Adam Jones singles. Bynum sacrifices him to second base and Brian Roberts works a walk. Go-ahead run on first base. 1 out. Cooper ambles towards the mound, removes Brocail and calls for Jose Valverde, the Astros portly flame throwing closer.

Markakis vs. Valverde. The Orioles best vs. The Astros best in a critical situation. After taking strike one. Markakis offers a feeble wave at strike 2 and then, with the crowd at a fever pitch, contorts his body and offers a still feebler poof of his wrists and wiggle of the bat at strike 3. 2 outs. Mora coming up. Air escaping fast from the Camden yards balloon.

Mora falls behind in the count 1-2 and then declares war. Dug into his trench in the right-handed box, Mora deflects Valverde's offerings, watches 2 overthrown fastball sail wide of the strike zone, and, with the count full at 3-2, rockets a double into the alley between right and center. Standing on second, a lone Oriole in a sea of red-clad disheartened Astros, Mora pumps his fists in excitement. His double has given the home team a 6-5 lead.

George Sherrill works a 1-2-3 ninth inning. The Orioles have won the first game of the series. Caroline and I rush out of the park and trek to the parking lot on Baltimore Street. Not one to pour salt on wounds, I do my best not to talk about the result and I somewhat sheepishly re-confirm our date for the following evening, “Again tomorrow night?” My favorite baseball fan, though disappointed, offers no objection.

My birds have drawn first blood. But, 1 thrilling comeback win does not a series win guarantee. The games must be played. Tomorrow night could hold anything in store…

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Love and Baseball

Two weeks ago, the Baltimore Orioles swept the Houston Astros in a 3-game mid-week inter-league series played at Camden Yards. To the untrained eye, it was a wholly unremarkable occurrence. A team which is showing signs of improvement after a dismal decade won three straight games against a team which, by all accounts, is coming apart at the seems and headed for a well below .500 finish. I doubt anyone at ESPN even considered any of the three games for national tv coverage. And justifiably so. Boston Red Sox pre-game stretching has more of a national draw than mid-week Orioles vs Astros.

Despite what those who would jump at the chance to watch Kevin Youkilis limber up would have you believe, The Orioles-Astros series was indeed extraordinary. All three games had dramatic finishes. All three featured lead changes, timely hitting, clutch pitching and acrobatic defense. Most importantly, I watched all three games from the 3rd base-side lower box seats with my favorite Houston Astros fan. Though perhaps not the most conflict-free dating strategy (I doubt too many Roman boys asked Christian girls to go see Lions vs. Christians in the Colosseum) I am pleased to report that after three summer nights in Baltimore, my favorite baseball fan is still speaking to me.

In what may accurately be called PUSHING MY LUCK, I have decided to write about the series sweep. Over the next few days, I intend to weave my mental notes, our scorecards, and my occasional scribbled side-comments into a narrative which tells the story of 3 games, 3 dates, and 1 very very contented Orioles fan.

Good Players Don't...

... Do exactly what several of the Orioles' stop-gap solutions at key positions did this weekend during a gut-wrenching series loss to the beat-up, light-hitting, cellar-dwelling Washington Nationals.

Exhibit A: George Sherrill: Stopgap Closer. Sherill is 2nd in the American League in saves. Thats neat. But...He has an ERA pushing 4.00. He has allowed 47 baserunners (hits and walks and Hit batsmen) in 35 2/3 innings. Real closers do not allow almost 1 1/2 baserunners per inning. That today's abomination in Washington was only his 4th blown save of the season is indescribably fantastic. Sherrill must have the guardian angel of guardian angels. Somehow, teams have yet to discover the wonders of waiting for Sherrill to hang a curveball, something good closers also do not do very often but something for which Sherrill has a clear penchant. Under no circumstances does someone who has the requisite skill and make-up for closing major league baseball games walk a .260 hitter with 2 outs in a save situation and then hang a breaking ball to a .210 hitter for a game winning homerun. Thats something that washed up starters who are plugging middle relief holes in second division bullpens do.

Sherrill is 30 years old. He is not, therefore, a development project. If the Orioles are serious about rebuilding for the future, Jim Johnson, Dennis Sarfate, or anyone else with a long-term upside would be much better suited for closer-in-training duty than George Sherrill. Why Sherrill, despite his age and the myriad of flaws in his approach on the mound is the closer for a "rebuilding team" is beyond me. He makes a very serviceable reliever. Better than average even. But closer? Spare Us.

Exhibit B: Kevin Millar: Stopgap 1st Baseman. Millar is a likable guy. Great in the clubhouse according to most reports and he has provided a number of clutch hits during his seasons wearing orange and black. But... Millar is hitting under .240. He runs with the swiftness of a rusted Yugo sitting engineless in a rural junkyard. He is a dead pull hitter who
under no circumstances can hit behind a runner or, gasp, sacrifice bunt. When stationed next to first base with a glove on his left hand, Millar is an average first baseman. So average that he was ALWAYS replaced in late innings during the Red Sox title run of 2004 by the slicker-fielding Doug Mientkiewicz. Millar is now 4 years older and no more adept with the leather but still finds himself manning 1st base late in games. He let one through the wickets in extra innings this afternoon which, if facing a team with more than 2 major league caliber hitters, could have cost the Orioles the game.

Millar does not hit for enough power to justify his meager batting average. He does not provide the situational hitting or bat control necessary to justify the lack of serous power and low batting average. Simply put, if an opposing team finds itself situation like transpired today in the top of the 12th inning (runners on 1st and 2nd, no outs, and Millar coming up), their manager can rest easy knowing that unless gifted with mistake thigh-high fastball over the inside 1/3 of the plate, Millar will not, under any conditions, be advancing the runners to 2nd and 3rd or driving them in with a base hit. Millar would make a great platoon guy. Maybe even a good 1st baseman on a team that had 2 or 3 other legit power bats in the lineup. But, for Millar, who is 36, to be the everyday first baseman for a "rebuilding team" is just not right.

Exhibit C: Melvin Mora: Stopgap 3rd baseman. The Tagalog word for cheap is mura. When I was studying that language I remembered mura by telling myself "The Orioles can't afford a real replacement for Cal Ripken so they're settling for Mora cuz he's Mura!" Mora is no longer Mura. Signed through 2009, he is making all-star money while batting well under .250. Mora is now one of the last remaining vestiges of the teams in 2002 and 2003 which, like the every other Orioles team in the past decade, finished 4th and lost more than 90 games. Mora was one of the bright spots on a couple of those awful teams. But, like so many other once above average players who have entrenched themselves in an organization, Mora has now become an albatross around the neck of the Orioles as they try to rebuild, re-tool, and return to contention in the AL East.

Mora is hitting a cool .230. Thats just about 100 points lower than where he was 5 years ago. 100 points that divide an All-Star from a liability. Mora bats behind the franchise's best hitter, Nick Markakis. He is Markakis' protection in the lineup and he's hitting .230. No amount of loyalty to players, thankfulness for his years of hustle and contributions, or any other positive quality that Mora can bring can disguise the simple fact that he bats 3rd, right behind Markakis and is hitting .230. Mora is 36 years old.

Did I mention he's hitting .230?

The reason for this quick analysis of 3 key parts of the Orioles machine is simple: barring a Three Mile Island-style meltdown over the next 2 weeks, the Birds will go into the All-Star Break as one of the surprise stories of the 2008 season. Praise for the MacPhail-led "rebuilding" efforts will flow abundantly from the mouths and pens of the baseball press. To be sure, the first half of 2008 has exceeded expectations by more than leaps and bounds. For the first time years the Orioles are providing the Baltimore baseball fans with a product worth supporting. But, lets not congratulate the front office on successfully throwing off the shackles of the "stop gap mentality" just yet. The 2008 Orioles, like the last 10 Orioles teams, are still sticking fingers in leaks rather than rebuilding their boat.

I will continue to root for the Orioles. I will continue to pay to see them play. And I hope that all of the players named above go on hot streaks as soon as i have clicked the "publish post" button at the bottom of my screen. But, when the time comes that an Orioles team is once again playing in a World Series and I stand in line to buy my tickets for the long-awaited event, I will buy a ticket for anyone reading this if the Orioles team which reaches the World Series still has Millar at 1st, Mora at 3rd, or George Sherrill at the back end of the bullpen.

Consider that a promise.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It's Never Iffy if its Griffey

In the clubhouse after slugging his 60th homerun in September 1927, Babe Ruth shouted "60. Count em. 60. Lets see some other son of a bitch do that!"

We have no record of similar boasts when the Great Bambino eclipsed 600 homeruns for his career but, knowing the Babe, some sort of grand pronouncement may very well have followed that historic homer as well.

Ken Griffey Jr joined the 600 homer club earlier this week. The 600 club, once a super-exclusive secret society of Ruth, Mays and Aaron, has swelled in ranks in recent years but still remains open to only a very select membership. Griffey Jr deserves great heaps of praise for his career achievement.

The rising generation of young baseball fans never saw the classic Ken Griffey Jr, who, along with Frank Thomas, terrorized American League pitching in the 1990s and made regular appearances in the nightmares of an elementary school-aged boy growing up outside of Baltimore. On more than one occasion, i woke up in a cold sweat because my pleasant dream of the Orioles winning the American League had turned terrifying with the sudden and unfortunate appearance of Ken Griffey Jr in the batters box.

Despite the wild orgy of homeruns which defined the past 10+ seasons of big league ball, Griffey remains the only batsman to hit a ball off of the storied B&O Warehouse in deep rightfield at Baltimore's Camden Yards. Sure he only did it in All-Star Game batting practice. But still. A ball went from his bat to the bricks of the warehouse. No one else has managed that feat.

Griffey's early 90s popularity had to be experienced to be fully understood. He was on a Simpsons Episode. (Burns recruited him for the company softball team but before the big game, Griffey ended up with gigantism!) The cool kids on little league teams had Griffey's Nike cleats. We wore our hats backwards during infield and outfield practice to look like Griffey. He was, basically, the face of the sport. Think David Ortiz, but without the annoying association with the Red Sox. A quick youtube search brings the following gems:

Upper Deck


Nike again (This might have been the nightmare causer.)

He made an appearance on Fresh Prince!

Another Nightmare causer

Everyone makes a weird one


The Greatest Athlete Commercial Ever.

During my freshman year at Georgetown, James Carville came and spoke in one of the auditoriums on campus. Afterwards, the ragin cagin walked out to his car surrounded by a decent sized crowd of students. I was among them. I still don't know why I did it, but, when he turned my way as were were walking through campus I blurted out that I had loved the "Griffey for President" commercials. Carville busted out laughing, exclaimed "Wasn't that somethin!" and then went back to laughing. My moment with one of America's best political minds, and I talked about a Nike commercial. And the thing is, I stand by my decision. I can still see him busting up when i asked the question. "Griffey for President" was worthy of that moment!

The year prior to the Griffey for President campaign, Junior had teamed with Randy Johnson to take the seemingly doomed Seattle Mariners on a magical run through September to leapfrog the California Angels and win the American League West. Then, to the consternation of the sporting world, the upstart Mariners somehow knocked off the Yankees in dramatic fashion in the 1995 ALDS. All whispers of the demise of baseball in the great northwest were silenced.

Then the seemingly immortal Griffey became frail.

John Greenleaf Whittier left us with the immortal words "For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been." The legendary poet described Griffey perfectly. Since moving to Cincinatti in 2000, Griffey has yet to appear in more than 144 games in a season. He's had a couple of impressive summers, twice slugging more than 30 homers in a season for the Reds. But, a look at his numbers since he switched cities is enough to make even the man of the most stalwart constitution cringe. Oh what might have been had Ken Griffey Jr not fallen victim to the bubonic injury plague!

If Griffey had managed to club 30 homers in all of the seasons in which he spent significant time on the Disabled List, He would now be 2 shy of catching Willie Mays on the all-time list. 700 would be fully within reach for his career. Had Griffey sustained his late 90's production levels into this decade, we might well be asking ourselves now "Can he reach 800? Can he?"

We can only wonder!

Roll the Video 1 more time!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Old Faces

Quick Trivia Question: Who is the only major leaguer in history to hit 2 grand slam homeruns in a single inning?

Hint #1: He has a total of 93 career homers (so far).

Hint #2: He did not play a single major league game in 2004 and 2005.

Hint #3: He is currently a reserve outfielder on the New York Mets.

Hint #4: His name is Fernando Tatis.

On April 23, 1999, Mr. Tatis, then of the St. Louis Cardinals, smashed two grand slam homeruns in the first inning against Chan Ho Park of the LA Dodgers. The grand slam binge was a part of a larger gluttonous season for Tatis. He launched 34 round-trippers for the Cardinals in 1999, drove in 107 runs and batted a cool .298. Stardom was on the way.

Rather than joining the ranks of Aaron, Ruth, and Mays, Tatis instead quickly plummeted into the putrid abyss of one-hit-wonders. Move over Norman Greenbaum and Deep Blue Something. Tatis vanished. By 2001 he was in baseball exile playing before dozens of less-than-enthusiastic fans in Montreal. 2004 rolled around, and Tatis was gone from the major league ranks.

In 2006, Tatis took a small step up the mire of oblivion; he played a half season with the Baltimore Orioles. On a team lacking major league talent, Tatis saw some playing time and batted a modest .250. Then, back to the minors in 2007.

He resurfaced in May as a replacement outfielder on the sinking ship of the New York Mets. And, wouldn't ya know it! Tatis still has a little hero left in him. On May 28, he smashed a walk-off double to defeat the surprising Florida Marlins.

I had meant to write about Tatis soon thereafter, but, for some reason or another, didn't. I was reminded of Tatis (funny how my mind works) when another former Oriole crossed my path this past weekend. Armando Benitez has somehow found employment in the Toronto bullpen. On Friday night, Armando graciously repaid Orioles fans for a part of the pestilence he inflicted upon Birdland. As only he can do, Benitez threw a belt high fastball to Adam Jones in a 4-4 game on Friday which, owing to its location over the middle of the plate, was authoritatively whacked over the left centerfield wall. Orioles win 6-5. Thanks amigo! That Benitez and Jorge Julio are both receiving big league paychecks at present does not speak highly of the state of our national pastime.

I've said it once and i'll say it again. Blue Jays fans are now welcome to sing along: Having Armando Benitez pitch for your baseball team is like having Michael Jackson work at your day care center.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

33 Dollar Tickets

For the first time in my life, I purchased a Nationals ticket valued at greater than $15 this week. On Thursday night, I got to the new ballpark next to the Anacostia River a few minutes before the first pitch. The ticket line was pretty slow and upon reaching the front of the line, the gentleman behind the window explained that the cheapest tickets left in the house were in the over-priced $33 rightfield pavilion. After a long day of training at work, I needed my baseball fix, so, out came the credit card and 2 front-row tickets jumped into my possession.

By the time we reached our seats, the Nats had built a 2-0 lead on the visiting Cardinals. Maybe I've discovered the problem. The Nats are a get-what-you-pay-for operation. All these years I've been paying 5 bucks for tickets/accepting free seats and I've endured lots of bad baseball. (In fairness, there have been some dandies too. Like the night that RFK shook in 2005 as the Nats smacked Pedro Martinez around and chants of "Who's Your Daddy?" rang out from the upper deck.) But- i can't argue with facts: I shelled out for more expensive seats and the Nats offense received a 1.21 giga-watt shot of electricity.

Before the oppressive heat has even begun to cause geysers of perspiration to erupt all over my body, the Nationals bats have banged out 7 runs. After a Troy Glaus homerun in the 4th inning, The Nats answer right back with a run in the bottom of the inning to give the hosts a 8-3 lead. Get what you pay for indeed!

And then, as Sublime would sing, THATS WHEN THINGS GOT OUT OF CONTROL!

The Cardinals roared to life. The Nationals' bats cooled off. Still, the lead started at 8-1. At worst, i opined, the Cards will make things interesting. Wrong. Relief pitcher Mark Worrell tattooed a 3-2 pitch from Nationals hurler Tim Redding into the left field bleachers for a 3-run homer. Suddenly an 8-1 blowout had turned into an 8-6 contest.

In the bottom of the 6th, the home team loaded the bases with 1 out and failed to score. I wonder aloud if there is a noticeably lower winning percentage for teams which at some point in a game strand the bases loaded. Somewhere in the great heights of the blogosphere, someone must keep an eye on these things.

After a ringing double by Brendan Ryan with 1 out in the top of the 9th, Tony LaRussa electrified the Cardinal partisans by summoning Albert Pujols to pinch hit. Nationals temp-closer Jon Rauch struck the mighty Cardinals slugger out looking. 2 outs. I stood up in my seat. Oops. Skip Schumacher laced a triple off of the very top of the wall in left centerfield. Suddenly things were tense. An Adam Kennedy roller up the middle eluded the outstretched glove of Christian Guzman and the game was tied.

Going into extra innings, the Cardinals owned the momentum and wasted no time in continuing their rise from what a few innings ago seemed like a cavernous grave. Joe Mather fouled off a half dozen pitches with 2 out in the 10th before blasting a 3-2 fastball into the left field stands. For the first time all night, St Louis has the lead.

Enter Ryan Franklin. Christian Guzman greeted the reliever rudely with a sharp single to center. Then, on a 2-2 pitch, the previously homerless Elijah Dukes ended both his season long draught and the ballgame with a mammoth blast to centerfield. Nats win 10-9.

Maybe there was something to that get-what-you-pay-for idea.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Orioles-Red Sox

I went to a fight and a baseball game broke out.

No, Daniel Cabrera didn't go head-hunting again against the Red Sox. No, brushbacks thrown by Josh Beckett didn't empty the benches. The violence at Camden Yards on Friday night had little to do with the 13-inning Red Sox win over the Orioles. Thank $6 college student night in the left field upper deck. Section 378 turned into a war zone as Orioles faithful clashed repeatedly with visitors from Red Sox Nation. From the first pitch at 7:05 until the game ended just before midnight, a motley assortment of partisan rooters waged war all around me.

This is their story.

Round 1: Male-Female Couple in Red Sox Gear vs. Orange Clad Baltimore Local

The game started badly for the Orioles. Before the birds came to bat in the bottom of the first, Daniel Cabrera had already surrendered 2 runs on several hard smashes out of the reach of left-fielder Luke Scott. The natives got restless. Urged onward and upward by the good folks of the Coors, Miller, and Budweiser Brewing Companies, a group of patrons of Section 378 began verbal jousts with a pair of Red Sox fans seated in Row AA (the front row). One puffy partisan in Orange approached the Red Sox rooters and began hurling an acid stream of profane invective at the male in the pair. Leaning in as if to nibble on the gentleman's ear, the Oriole fan accused the Sox fan of performing anatomically impossible acts upon himself, David Ortiz, and, oddly enough, sheep. The listener endured the barrage admirably for several innings before the proverbial patience dam burst. Rising to his feet between his seat and the shallow railing, the Sox fan shouted an oath and toppled the pudgy pugilist with a mighty shove. Arms and legs attached to the flabby orange covered body flailed upward and the antagonist tumbled over his seat. Rising to defend the honor of his friend, a black-clad Orioles stalwart lurched towards the enemy combatant only to also be sent sprawling in the narrow gap between seats and railing.

Enter the stadium staff. The puffy fan in orange was the first to receive the heave-ho. In a show of civic participation, the Oriole partisans in the section began an immediate campaign of chanting and pointing at the Red Sox fan in order to secure justice. Responding to the popular pleas, the staff soon removed the Sox fan as well. In a bizarre twist, his girlfriend eschewed following the new martyr out of the park, instead opting to exit the section via another set of stairs.

Round 2: Girl in Green vs. Section 378.

She had exposed herself repeatedly while climbing back and forth over the front row seats in the early innings. Her jean skirt wasn't quite long enough to prevent a couple Brittney Spears moments. Her green t-shirt had "Green Monstah" emblazoned across the chest. By the middle of the game, her ability to construct complete sentences had been hopelessly drowned in a river of $7 Oriole Park beers. Moving into the Row AA seats vacated by the fallen heroes, the girl in green waged war on the Orioles rooters. Firing middle fingers into the air with the deftness of John Wayne shooting pistols in a gun fight, our friend drew the ire of much of section 378.

Angered Baltimore fans swarmed around the girl. Accusations of lewd behavior filled the evening air. A fan with his face covered in copious amounts of poorly applied mascara went in for the kill. Shouting and poking ensued as the girl battled mascara man and the fellow to her left who, thanks to an overdose of liquid courage, had a clear penchant for humping the air around the safety railing. The gentleman companion of the girl in green attempted to calm her ravings to no avail. Unaware of her actions, she proceeded to swipe the hat of a nearby fan, adorning her curly hair with a white Orioles cap. She moved down the row, trading insults and taking swings at another set of Baltimore fans further down in row BB. Returning to her seat and continuing to rant incoherently and brandish "the bird" our friend in green was shown to the exit by 2 of Baltimore's Finest. Her male friend followed sadly behind.

Round 3: Section 378 vs. "The Nerds"

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy warns readers that the 13th inning is a little late for fans to wave homemade signs in the air. In the top of the 13th, 3 Orioles errors gifted the visitors with a 5-2 lead. The sudden change in scoreboard fortunes emboldened a group of Red Sox fans in section 376. Enraged by their teams poor play and the brazenness of the Sox fans in the neighboring section, the Orioles fans of 378 responded with force. Row CC launched a long-range barrage of shouts of "nerd!" Councils of war convened to plot strategy for the destruction of the offending signs.

In the trenches of the stairs between the warring sections, the battle escalated. An Oriole rooter suddenly lunged for a vocal Boston fan, seized the man's hat and hurled it over the safety railing into the lower deck. The beleaguered usher tasked with the supervision of Section 378 rushed to intervene. Thanks to his timely mediation, violence was averted. Jonathon Papelbon's arsenal of pitches made short work of the deflated Orioles in the bottom of the 13th and the combatants rushed to the exits. The war was suddenly over. The tapestry of profanity and abusive language woven by the warring parties was seen drifting eastward from the left field stands towards the B&O Warehouse.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Updating the Trades

Its been a couple of weeks since we checked on the Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard trades.





















































To the Mariners


















To the Orioles



























Tillman (AA)









Butler (A)




























Tejada's power number have dropped considerably since we last looked at the trade. His OPS has fallen back under .900. While he is hitting a cool .340, his low walk and homerun totals are keeping his OPS lower than we might think. Luke Scott, despite fewer at bats and much less eye-catching hitting stats still has a 6 BB lead on Tejada. That in and of itself doesn't mean much except that Scott has an offensive game that, at least through 2 months of the season, appears very well suited to the production of runs.

George Sherrill is making the most of his first season as a major league closer. The blog-o-sphere over Baltimore is already beginning to fill with grand strategies to trade Sherrill in July for a king's ransom. Such talk is mis-guided. Part of the process of rebuilding a team is knowing when a player on your squad is a rare commodity (a solid lefty late-inning reliever, for instance) who fits into your long-term goals. If 2010 is the Orioles goal for contending, Sherrill could certainly contribute to that cause.

One final note on Tony Butler. His performance so far in Class A Delmarva has been good but not dazzling by any means. However, one statistic in his pitching line screams for attention: a 26:5 SO to BB ratio. For every walk Butler issues, he fans 5.2 opposing hitters. Impressive.